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Carbon fibre production heats up

Furnace Engineering is supporting Australia’s entry into the production of carbon fibre with the design and supply of furnaces.

Furnace Engineering has designed the pre-carbonisation and carbonisation furnaces and will undertake the installation of the complete line, consisting of oxidation ovens, sizing, abatement and controls at the world-class pilot-scale research carbon fibre production facility at Deakin University in Geelong.

In addition to the pilot line, a small lab research single tow-line has been made and will be installed, allowing a single tow of carbon fibre to be produced. Temperatures, feed rates, material types etc can all be trialled in an environment surrounded by the university facilities and researchers.

“There are very few accessible facilities like this in the world,” says Brian Gooden, Director of Furnace Engineering. “This is a real asset for Australia and for encouraging carbon fibre research from around the world into Australia.”

”We are grateful for the support of local industries and look forward to continuing to play a part in keeping our composite industry innovative and competitive,” said Brian.

About the company

Furnace Engineering brings more than 40 years of heat processing experience to the composites industry. Brian explains that there are hundreds of the company’s installations of furnaces, ovens, and heat treatment plants in operation in Australia and abroad using a range of technologies, such as electrical heating, gas firing, infra red and induction.

“In recent years, there has been growth in the use of heat processing for composites,” says Brian. These may be curing ovens, ranging from small low cost bench top equipment with relatively simple controls, to high power, high air flow rate ovens complying with strict requirements for the aerospace industry.

Out of autoclave technology

In particular, with the ovens used for carbon fibre composite resin infusion and curing on precision tools, the thermal requirements differ significantly from traditional industrial applications.  The oven needs air recirculation rates and sufficient heating power to provide a lower cost alternative to the old method of curing in an autoclave. The term used is
‘Out Of Autoclave’ (OOA) curing of carbon composite materials.

Brian says the process and success of the ovens supplied is proven. At the Boeing plant in Melbourne, some 15 of these large OOA ovens are being used to produce parts for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

“At first glance, the fans on these aerospace infusion ovens may seem disproportionally large for the oven. This is in order to ensure rapid but uniform heat-up rates are achieved. Rapid cooling is also sometimes required. The oven must replicate the capability of the autoclave in being able to impart the heat to both the tool and component in order to measure up to
the name of being an OOA curing oven.”

The current demand for low running cost and low emissions has seen new interest in gas-fired and even hybrid heating methods to reduce carbon emissions and yet maintain tight control on the process and keep running costs as low as possible.

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